5/29/2009 7:33:35 PM
As part of Geez’s Experiments With Truth issue, writer Natalie Boustead decided to tap the laundromat patrons of Toronto and see if she could cull some deep thoughts from them as they sorted their whites and darks. She set out “question of the week” boxes at a handful of local venues and proffered different questions for four weeks, with “small hopes that I would find amongst the bitter rubble of Torontonians, small gems of wisdom, beauty, and truth.” Like Boustead, you won’t be disappointed with the results. Here are the questions and my favorite answers:
Week 1: Does heaven exist? Why/why not?
Week 2: What would you like for Christmas that has no monetary value?
Peace on earth. And my real teeth.
For my ex-boyfriends to apologize for being bad boyfriends. Unless they’re psychotic now.
Week 3: What else is certain besides death and taxes?
Week 4: What makes you happy?
People who are not miserable on the subway after work.
Geez won an Utne Independent Press Award this year for its excellent spiritual coverage.
Image by slimninja, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/29/2009 5:33:31 PM
There’s a bumper sticker that says, “If America is the land of the free, why is everything for sale?” The implication is that there are some things that should not be sold, no matter what the price. On the Philosophy Bites podcast, Harvard professor Michael Sandel argues that there are goods and services that are corrupted or degraded when sold for money, and therefore should never be up for sale.
There is a strong argument, according to Sandel, for banning of prostitution, the selling of organs, commercial surrogacy (also known as paid pregnancy), and even blood donations. Sandel says these placing a dollar value may degrade or corrupt the underlying good of these practices. Agree or disagree, Sandel believes that the key is bringing these issues up for public debate and making firm decisions about them.
5/29/2009 4:33:25 PM
Chefs with tattoos are commonplace, but Meatpaper reports on a new trend in the field of food-related tats: Pigs. The pig/pork/sausage/ham/bacon tattoo is on full display (for subscribers) in the journal’s most recent issue, which is entirely dedicated to the pink beast. There you can find the limbs of culinary trade inked in antique bacon presses, flying pigs, German sausages, and no shortage of pig butchery diagrams—the illustrations marking different cuts of the meat. One chef even has “PORK!” tattooed on the inside of her lower lip—and yes, it looks as painful as it sounds. Why the swine lovefest? One devotee summed up his love for the versatile muse: “It’s the food of the gods. It brings us ribs, bacon, ham, sausage, pork chops. What else bring you all those things? Nothing else does that.”
Meatpaper was nominated for a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award in the categories of social/cultural coverage and general excellence.
Image by aurora.leonard, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/27/2009 1:14:40 PM
Money can’t buy happiness. In fact, it can make you less happy. According to ScienCentral, researchers followed recent college graduates for two years after graduation and found that attaining intrinsic goals, like rewarding relationships and contributing to the community, increased psychological health and well-being. On the other hand, psychology professor Edward Deci said that achieving extrinsic goals, like money and prestige, “actually contributes to their greater ill-being, which is to say more anxiety and depressive symptoms.”
The study’s authors defined extrinsic goals like money and happiness as “American Dream” goals. According to a recent documentary by American RadioWorks, the American dream is often defined as: “you are what you acquire, like a home, a car or two, or a large-screen TV.” It wasn’t always that way, however. The documentary tracks the evolution of the phrase, from its idealistic roots to its more consumerist meaning. Years ago, the American dream was closer to “the chance to better your circumstances no matter what your family name or what your station was.”
Sources: ScienCentral, American RadioWorks
5/21/2009 1:29:44 PM
A cockroach scuttling across the floor sends most people in search of an exterminator (or a rolled up newspaper). Gabriel Cohen, writing for Shambhala Sun, went looking for spiritual peace: “Something primal overwhelms me and I want to kill it, this nasty invader of my space. Instead, I pause and think.”
This urge to kill stems from fear, according to Cohen. Thinking logically about the threat posed by this tiny cockroach, and seeing the world from the cockroach’s point of view, Cohen finds other ways of dealing with the infestation. Admitting that he doesn’t know if his approach is the correct one, Cohen instead opts to ward off bugs with citronella candles and scoop up any bugs he finds and toss them outside. It’s part of an approach that, Cohen writes, “challenges us to be just a little less cruel, a touch more kind, a tad less angry, a sigh more patient.”
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(article not available online)
5/20/2009 4:11:54 PM
Somebody had the good sense to install a swing in a Bay Area Rapid Transit car recently (and to document it with photos). Flip through the photos and you'll find the wide eyes and even wider smiles of the swinging rail riders are infectious.
This delightful event had me digging up videos from the good people at Improv Everywhere, who, it turns out, just released a book! Remember the human mirror?
5/20/2009 11:01:02 AM
Religious fundamentalists and modern atheists have something in common: Neither one can take a joke. Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and the other heirs to the enlightenment are not funny, Giles Fraser writes for the Philosopher’s Magazine, “And that’s as sure a sign as any that the Enlightenment is as creatively dead as the proverbial parrot.”
“Whenever laughter is absent,” Fraser writes, “the heavy drumbeat of political control is never very far behind.” Humor is the most effective way to speak truth to power (see: Steven Colbert), and without humor, political views become too serious, too certain. Laughter promotes understanding, and Fraser writes, “whereas understanding leads to peace, certainty leads to conflict and violence.”
Some people laugh at the dry humor of Christopher Hitchens, but his “vitriolic attacks upon Islam as something backward and ignorant” make Fraser anxious. Though Fraser doesn’t mention them, Hitchens’ recent attacks on women’s humor are decidedly not funny. And most of the other new atheists don’t even try to find humor in their attacks on religion and their defense of science. “Without laughter,” Fraser writes, “all this is smug and dangerous.
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Sources: The Philosopher’s Magazine
5/19/2009 4:44:48 PM
Religions have never been particularly open to change. Changes are usually referred to as “revolutions” or “schisms” in religious history. Believers of the open source movement, profiled by Sam Kean in Search magazine, believe it doesn’t have to be that way. By applying the open source philosophy, best known for software like Wikipedia and Linux, a few tech-geeks are using a nonhierarchical, change-based approach to change religion.
Strict adherents to the open source philosophy point out that neither Wikipedia nor Linux are considered truly open source, because there are certain restrictions in place that prevent people from editing everything. This becomes a problem in open source religion too, where certain traditions and rituals are literally sacred. Kean also identifies “a certain lackadaisicalness about some open-source religions,” where people aren’t as religious in their dedication.
5/15/2009 12:11:50 PM
Calling all fellow non-survivalists: if you’re a little curious which goods to stock for doomsday (or flu outbreak), check out the Grist blog, which offers a comprehensive list of essentials—some healthy—to shelve in your pantry or under the bed. My favorite tip: "Don't spend too much time obsessing about flavor."
On a more somber note, Treehugger reports one in three kids fear for an Earth Apocalypse in their lifetime. Stocking the pantry may relieve anxiety, but likely won’t do much in the throes of global warming … I think 2012 is right around the corner.
Sources: Grist, Treehugger
Image by sleepyneko licensed under Creative Commons.
5/14/2009 7:25:15 PM
Let’s go out on a limb, but not too far, and assume that most people want to behave ethically. Bringing those ethical intentions to fruition is more difficult than you might anticipate, reports The Chronicle Review (subscription required). “To do good, individuals must go through a series of steps, and unless all of those steps are completed, people are not likely to behave ethically, regardless of the ethics training or moral education they have received,” writes psychologist and educator Robert J. Sternberg.
Sternberg’s steps include stages such as recognizing that there is an event to react to, defining the event as having an ethical dimension, and then deciding that the ethical dimension is significant. From there, it’s a matter of taking responsibility, seeking an ethical solution, and, of course, acting on it. There are pitfalls at every phase: finding a way, for example, to avoid taking responsibility (it’s not really my business), or rationalizing away the significance of unethical conduct (it was only a few dollars).
In other news: The Chronicle Review is part of the splendid Chronicle of Higher Education, a 2009 Utne Independent Press Award nominee for best writing.
Source: The Chronicle Review
5/12/2009 1:49:04 PM
Many of Mexico's poorest Catholics count themselves among the devotees of a skeletal woman saint called La Santa Muerte, or the Saint of Death. It is bad fortune for the faithful that another sub-group of Mexican Catholics have followed them to the altar: members of Mexico's notorious drug cartels who have been known to construct private shrines to "the white lady" in their mansions. Now the government of Mexico has begun destroying public Santa Muerte shrines—more than thirty of them—as an act of psychological warfare in their battle against the cartels.
There is no word on how the narcos are taking it, but the people are protesting. As a Religion Dispatches report makes clear: Santa Muerte’s followers are mostly salt-of-the-earth types—the kind of people already in up to their eyeballs in the violence of a war for which they bear no responsibility:
Shrines can be found in Mexico City and Tijuana, as well as almost every town on the Mexican border. Devotees leave offerings of flowers, fruit, tequila, rum, and tobacco. Immigrants crossing the border illegally have been found with icons of the saint. While no one is certain where the movement originated, some have speculated that Vatican II deprived Mexican Catholics of devotional practices, causing new traditions to be invented. Others believe Santa Muerte is the product of hybridity: a Catholicized incarnation of Mictecacíhuatl, the Aztec queen of the underworld. A book entitled El libro de la Santa Muerte contains novenas to the saint as well as hechizos (spells) invoking her aid. Police in Oaxaca purchase packets containing “dust” of Santa Muerta to hang in their cars.
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis recently screened a documentary about the followers of the Saint of Death, here’s a peek:
Source: Religion Dispatches
Image by ORNI¡, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/11/2009 2:10:13 PM
If you’re in Baltimore and you see a small group of prisoners wearing green jumpsuits and swinging two-foot machetes, thank them—they’re saving history. Baltimore’s Urbanite magazine reports on the effort to clean up the city's oldest African American burial ground—originally dedicated as the “City of the Dead for Colored People” and later called the Mount Auburn Cemetery—which it describes as “a botanical nightmare, its tombstones enveloped in a wild morass of timber, trash, rampant overgrowth, and tangled vines as thick as a hawser line.”
Now joined by university students with sonar instruments for aligning markers to their proper graves, the prisoners have been hacking through the “wild morass” for months, occasionally encountering coffins pushed close to the sod by roots and even the occasionally human bone emerging from the earth.
The cemetery is home to freed slaves, Afro-American newspaper founder John Henry Murphy, and boxing legend Joe Gans. And it is home to countless men like Anthony L. Brown, who was buried in 1972 at the age of nineteen:
Tony Brown was one of the great Dunbar High School basketball players and a member of the Poets’ 1971-72 team, which went undefeated in his senior year. He received offers from most of the major basketball colleges in the country, only to be stabbed to death by a girlfriend before choosing a school. He is buried beneath a couple of short two-by-fours nailed into a cross, painted white and inscribed in black marker: Anthony L. Brown, 11.18.53-03.28.72—Better Known as ‘Tony the Tiger.’ Dunbar Basketball Star.
Want to see this incredible place? We rustled around a bit and turned up gallery on the Preservation Alliance, Inc. website and a Flickr set of photographs from Mount Auburn Cemetery:
Images by Patty Boh.
5/11/2009 11:50:43 AM
Big news! Pope Benedict XVI has broken the papal record for most mosque visits. With his visit to the Hussein bin-Talal mosque in Amman, Jordan, he bested his predecessor’s record by just one visit—but he also doubled it.
That’s not bad math: the record for mosque visits by a single pontiff, which Benedict XVI now holds, is two.
Here’s John Allen from the independent Catholic newspaper National Catholic Reporter:
Late this morning, Benedict visited the Hussein bin-Talal mosque in the Jordanian capital of Amman. That makes two mosque tours for Benedict XVI, after a visit to the legendary Blue Mosque in Istanbul, Turkey, in late 2006. Though John Paul made appearances at many mosques over the years, he only entered one – the Umayyad Mosque in Damascus, Syria, in 2001.
Granted, the visit in Amman wasn’t quite the same stunner as Istanbul. For one thing, the symbolism was different; Benedict didn’t share a moment of silent prayer with an imam, and he didn’t take off his shoes. He did both in the Blue Mosque in 2006.
Nonetheless, the pope’s choice to go to the mosque at all, which is named for Jordan’s late King Hussein, offered further confirmation of the rising importance of Islam for this pope and for the broader Catholic church.
Source: National Catholic Reporter
5/7/2009 2:30:04 PM
Friends and family will tell you: Marriage is work. Keeping two people in a fulfilling relationship is difficult, while adultery comes naturally, the CrimethInc Collective write in Briarpatch. The problem, according to the article that "borrows liberally" from Against Love by Laura Kipnis, is that marriage turns relationships into “a domestic factory policed by rigid shop-floor discipline designed to keep wives and husbands chained to the machinery of responsible reproduction.”
Marriage resembles a market system, according to the article: “your intimacy is governed by scarcity, threats, and programmed prohibitions, and protected ideologically by assurances that there are no viable alternatives.”
Rather than make yourself a slave to the system, the article advocates cheating—and cheating openly. Sure, people will get hurt, but people always get hurt when the status-quo is upset.
Even if you don’t believe that marriage is tool of capitalist oppression, defenses of cheating are proliferating wildly on the internet. The irreverent Jewish site Jewcy recently published an interview with the founder of Shaindy.com, a site designed for “Religious Jewish married people, who are looking for some excitement outside of their marriage.” The founder claims that more than 3,000 chat or messages are sent between the sites members every day.
The idea is reminiscent of this video by Dane Cook on how to keep a marriage alive for more than 55 years:
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Sources: Briarpatch, Jewcy
5/7/2009 2:26:06 PM
In our International Issue, we asked the age-old question: Why do 40,000 Germans spend their weekends dressed as Native Americans? We know this much: it has something to do with Karl May, the best-selling German author of all time.
In Der Indianer, reprinted from Alberta Views, we learn that "in 1892, May published the first of many books about a fictional Apache warrior named Winnetou and his German blood brother, Old Shatterhand. The two men roamed the North American plains, using their nearly superhuman powers to fight off the land-hungry government and thuggish, violent pioneers."
Now we've stumbled upon photographs from a Karl May festival in Austria. Whatever it is that is happening here, it seems to be spreading.
Images bypixel0908, licensed under Creative Commons.
5/4/2009 4:51:03 PM
“When Barack Obama moved into the Oval Office in January, he inherited a military not just drained by a two-front war overseas but fighting a third battle on the home front, a subtle civil war over its own soul.” So writes Harper’s contributing editor, Jeff Sharlet, in a deeply-reported, equally troubling essay (not yet available online) chronicling the rise of the evangelical right in the U.S. Military since the Vietnam War.
At the end of the piece, titled “Jesus Killed Mohammed: The Crusade for a Christian Military,” the reader is left with the strong impression that if tens-of-thousands of recruits, along with certain high-ranking officers—including General David Patraeus—get their way, evangelical Christians will bring the “Lord of all’ to the entire armed forces. The U.S. Constitution be damned.
According to Sharlet, there is a “small but powerful movement of Christian soldiers concentrated in the officers corps” who see themselves not as subversives or radicals, but as “spiritual warriors” and “government paid missionaries.” Within this “fundamentalist front,” the best organized group is the Officers’ Christian Fellowship, which has 15,000 active members at 80 percent of military bases and an annual growth rate of 3 percent. The group equates military duty with Godly duty and routinely casts the world in stark terms of good and evil. The men and women in American uniform are the Lord’s to do with what he pleases. Everyone else is, literally, on the side of Satan.
While reading the piece, I couldn’t help but recall that in 2006 the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Intelligence Report warned that white supremacists and neo-Nazis were infiltrating the U.S. military, joining up with “the world’s best-trained, best-equipped fighting force” in order to walk away with valuable combat training and weapons skills. The magazine followed up in its Winter 2008 issue, concluding that since its original report, military officials “seem to have made no sustained effort to prevent active white supremacists from joining the armed forces or to weed out those already in uniform.”
Of course, there’s more than a fine line between Neo-Nazism and evangelical Christianity. Yet, it deeply concerns a number of military personnel, both conservative and liberal, when any group, no matter their religious or political agenda, is allowed to bring their beliefs to work. As Sharlet writes, “a soldier in uniform can’t endorse a political candidate, advertise a product, or proselytize. That rule is for the good of the public—no one wants men with guns telling them who to vote for—and for the military itself. And officer can tell a soldier what to do, but not what to believe; conscience is its own order.”
Yet, as the Harper’s story makes clear, preaching the word—which sometimes morphs into harassment and abuse of nonbelievers—is becoming both more common among the rank-and-file and too often ignored by commanders all the way up to Obama himself. It’s gotten so bad, in fact, that lifelong republican Mikey Weinstein, a former graduate of the Air Force Academy, a ten year veteran of JAG, and former assistant general counsel in the Reagan White House, is serving as president of the Military Religious Freedom Foundation, a small, scrappy organization whose primary mission is to protect soldiers who don’t walk the evangelical line from harassment. He tells Sharlet that his enemy is “weaponized Christianity.” And he believes this “country is facing a pervasive and pernicious pattern and practice of unconstitutional rape of religious rights of our armed forces members.”
Ultimately, what makes Sharlet’s story so haunting is the on-the-ground reportage. The writer weaves together a host of troubling anecdotes to make his case, including the opening scene (from which the story gets its name) about a National Guard Infantry Unit stationed in Samarra on an Easter Sunday. They begin the day eating breakfast while watching Mel Gibson’s The Passion of Christ. They end the day in a Bradley Assault Vehicle, its armor decorated in red Arabic script that’s meant to agitate the enemy. Its rough translation: “Jesus Killed Mohammed.”
The story concludes at the Air Force Academy in Colorado, long-considered ground zero for the military’s evangelical movement, where Sharlet asks a cadet what he would do if he ever received an order that contradicted his faith. What if he was ordered to bomb a building in which terrorists were hiding, even though there were civilians in the way?
“He shook his head. ‘Who are you to question why God build up nations just to destroy them, so that those who are in grace can see that they’re in grace?’ A smile lit up half his face, an expression that might be taken for sarcastic if [he] wasn’t a man committed to be earnest at all times.”
Image of the US Air Force Academy chapel by Mark Gallagher, licensed under Creative Commons.
Harper’s, Intelligence Report
5/4/2009 1:47:59 PM
There comes a day when parents can no longer avoid talking to their children about sex. That day can be made more awkward if the talk is illustrated by comical drawings of fish with oversized genitalia. In an exploration into the Christian condemnation of masturbation, Scott Cheshire writes for Killing the Buddha about his father’s use of a Christian publication and hand-drawn fish cartoons to teach about procreation. “To fully appreciate the gross irony,” Cheshire writes, “please understand that I think of my father’s drawing whenever I find myself behind a car bumper bearing the Christian symbol of Ichthys—the Jesus Fish.”
Image by Jaako, licensed by Creative Commons.
5/1/2009 5:42:09 PM
Lately, it seems like every publication in Utne Reader’s library that isn’t busy analyzing who’s to blame for this economic crunch is offering up tips and tricks for living on less—and with good cause. No time like the present for expending some mental energy on how we all might live more thriftily and lightly on the earth.
Which is what makes far too many of the thrifty-livin’ articles so, well, disappointing. I swear I’m going to jam a recycling bin over my head if I read one more cheerful checklist urging me to grow my own food. Um, yes. Gardens are great. More gardens = even greater. But is that the best (see: only) idea we have?
I’m not losing hope. The latest issue of BackHome—their 100th, as a matter of fact—just arrived, and brought with it “50 Ways to Live on Less,” a great article chock full of not-everybody-else’s ideas. The piece isn’t available online, so here’s a handful of suggestions that got my feathers fluffed:
#6 Think of your three favorite ways to cook beans and do those every week. Aside from the roadkill mentioned above, it’s hard to find a cheaper source of protein (and beans are more appetizing, too). Try beans in soups, salads, burgers, or in anything but ice cream.
#11 Use clear containers for food storage, so you can identify and eat food before it goes bad.
#41 Don’t be afraid to barter with anyone for goods or services. This includes doctors and lawyers.
#50 Write down your life goals, then write down your monthly expenses. Figure which expenses aren’t meeting your life goals, and cut out those expenses.
While we’re on the subject of not-boring advice, I’d be remiss if I didn’t also mention our sister publication Mother Earth News, a font of information when it comes to efficient, smart, do-it-yourself living. Plus, you can ask its knowledgeable editors questions, too. Really. And if anyone out there has seen unconventional stories or has unusual ideas for scaling back and living smart—I’d love to see some links.
UPDATE (5/6/2009): Oh ho! As it turns out, Craig Idlebrook, the author of BackHome’s “50 Ways to Live on Less,” wrote an even more expansive article in 2007 for Utne’s sister publication Mother Earth News. “Live on Less and Love It!” offers up 75 inspiring, unconventional ideas for a happy, thrifty life—and you can read them all online. Thanks to Mother Earth News managing editor John Rockhold for the tip.
Sources: BackHome, Mother Earth News
5/1/2009 2:01:35 PM
Scientific studies have shown that religion makes people happier and less anxious. It would be easy to infer that atheists would be more depressed and nervous, but that’s not exactly the case. The Boston Globe highlights a few studies showing that adamant atheists and pious Christians both tend to be less depressed. The unconvinced people in the middle are often the ones who have the problems.
Source: Boston Globe
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